A military defeat by Iraqi forces followed by a withdrawal from contested territories resulted in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani stepping down amid growing fears of greater disorder in the region, which could possibly be triggered by a quarrel between the political parties. Following Barzani's resignation announcement late Sunday, the offices of KRG opposition parties were reportedly attacked in several cities by mobs. The Gorran (Change) Movement and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said in separate statements that several of their offices in the Duhok region north of Irbil were looted or burned overnight. No casualties were reported.
The KRG cabinet immediately released a statement following the violent events, vowing a "legal retaliation" for those "involved in violence and instigation."
"Some groups obviously incite violence. Emergent provocations caused sadness and worry among our citizens. We called our police forces to take control over the situation and not let any attack on legal and political institutions and political party's buildings," the KRG statement said.
While Barzani's intention to not to renew his term after Nov. 1 was approved by KRG parliament, some media outlets reported that Nechirvan Barzani, his nephew and KRG prime minister, may take charge of an interim government. It is also speculated whether the division between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) the PUK, which have influence in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah, respectively, would go deeper.
Abdulla Hawez, an Iraqi Kurdish analyst, told Daily Sabah that future of intra-parliament relations in the KRG depends on the steps that the KDP will take, particularly from Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdish Regional Security Council, and his supporters who may not be very happy with his father stepping down, as his grip on power may weaken.
"The KRG is already split on the KDP-PUK lines as the PUK de facto rules Sulaymaniyah and the KDP rules Irbil and Duhok. Each have their own peshmerga forces despite having one government, but the deputy prime minister, who is from the PUK, has more power in Sulaymaniyah than the prime minister, who is from the KDP, and vice versa," Hawez said.
Mustafa Ekici, the coordinator of Turkey's state-run Kurdish language TV channel TRT Kurdi, said that Irbil and Sulaymaniyah are "already kind of two different countries politically and culturally," adding that developments in the region cannot be evaluated independently from Iran and Turkey.
"The [independence] referendum process traumatized the [Iraqi] Kurdish people. Barzani's words denoting the sense of treason due to the U.S.'s indifferent stance sums up the process well. It is obvious he had too many expectations from Washington," he said.
Following last month's independence referendum, Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake areas contested between the Iraqi central government and the KRG and gained control over them without much resistance. The defeat triggered an intra-regional conflict, and while the opposition lambasted the Barzani government for acting fecklessly by ignoring the warnings of an overwhelming majority of countries not to hold the controversial referendum, the opposition has been heavily criticized by the government for treason due to the retreat of peshmerga fighters loyal to the PUK from contested areas without putting up resistance, as a result of alleged negotiations with some countries in the region, particularly Iran.
Yesterday, Tehran signaled a thaw after Barzani's resignation, as Iranian Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri said the country will lift border restrictions with the KRG "in the coming days," which was implemented following the independence referendum, along with Turkey. Bagheri, in remarks quoted by the ISNA news agency yesterday, also said if the KRG implemented its plan to break away from Iraq, "there would be bloodshed in Iraq and neighboring countries would be affected."
Hawez contended that tensions between the central government and the KRG seem to be already calming down, encouraged by the U.S., as Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish delegations have been meeting to settle issues of disputed areas and border.
"I think the U.S. will push both sides to de-escalate and get to an agreement via negotiations rather than imposing order through violence. Also, as Nechirvan Barzani, who is more acceptable and flexible, steps in, I think there is a bigger chance of agreement and permanent cease-fire between Iraq and the KRG," Hawez said.
"However, we should not play down the role of Iraq-affiliated paramilitaries. If they don't like the deal, they may return to violence, but I think the U.S. won't let that happen and wants the credit for this agreement to go to [Iraqi Prime Minister] Haider al-Abadi as he prepares to seek re-election in next year's general elections."
Meanwhile, French consul-general to Irbil Frederic Tissot, a former French diplomat, said that the West misled Barzani regarding the independence referendum."Yes, we misled him. … Look at the implications of the results of the referendum for the Kurdish people," Tissot said to Turkey's Habertürk daily, adding that the analyses and data used to support the referendum were erroneous.Before the referendum, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized a picture of Barzani with Western diplomats, including Tissot, saying the KRG leader was encouraged by the West and criticized them for supporting the referendum, which would have consequences for Iraq's territorial integrity and stability in the region.